Which programs are the historically dominant forces in college hockey? Tomorrow, which programs can look down at the threads of their sweaters and realize that others before them have known the greatest triumphs donning the same vestments? This inquiry finds ready answers on the men's side. This contributor offers an answer for its feminine counterpart.
Many of those authors were Cornellians. The modern era (yes, at Cornell University, women's hockey is so old that, much like its masculine counterpart, there is a modern and older era) in women's hockey at Cornell began in 1972. Always ambitious and never relegated, Cornell women first donned carnelian-and-white tinctures to represent their alma mater five decades before their sport's modern era began. They played hockey 50 years before Title IX. They honed their skills nearly 80 years before the first NCAA tournament. It is these forebears that each member of the Lady Rouge represents on the ice.
Cornell's program may be the oldest. Its modern era, in a period that the West regards as prehistoric, saw the emergence of other women's programs. These programs settled their differences on the ice. Champions would be crowned in the playoffs. The Ivy League, EAIAW, and AWCHA took turns hosting tournaments that crowned recognized national champions long before the NCAA decided to pay any mind to women's hockey. Those champions matter.
Using a raw trophy-case count that ranks programs by absolute number of postseason tournaments a program has won, which program is the best across all eras of women's hockey? It is not Minnesota. It is not Wisconsin. The hosts of the 2016 Frozen Four, the Wildcats of New Hampshire, remain the most dominant postseason force in women's hockey history. New Hampshire has won 13 postseason titles. Minnesota checks in at second with one fewer tournament won. Wisconsin slips to fifth with its nine postseason championships. The once-dominant Minnesota-Duluth is third. Which program ranks fourth?
The women of East Hill have won the fourth-greatest total of playoff titles of any program in women's hockey. Cornellians have won ten postseason titles. They own just two fewer playoff titles than do the vaunted gilded rodents of the frozen prairie. Cornell predictably leads all ECAC Hockey programs in this category. On cue, Harvard is the second-most dominant program from ECAC Hockey barely trailing Wisconsin's all-time haul. How relevant are these titles?
New Hampshire has the longest drought among the top five. The Wildcats have ended only six seasons without winning a tournament since their last postseason triumph. Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Cornell, and Wisconsin have all won tournament titles more recently. This datum preserves the lasting relevance on the ice of these rich traditions.
Cornell women built women's hockey. Their successors defend their program's legacy as not only winners, but pioneers.
Only nine programs in the nation were hotter in the month of February before the playoffs begin. Only four programs were as red hot as was Cornell during the last two weeks of the regular season. The Rouge was one of only five teams to close out its regular-season slate with an unblemished four-game sprint.
Coach Derraugh complimented this team's defensive and goaltending efforts last weekend. Since February began, the defensive efforts of this team have improved so that Cornell is allowing 11.7% fewer goals per game than it was in the preceding months of the season. Continuing this trend will be essential if these women want to add an 11th and 12th title.
This stratagem needs to be in place against Clarkson. When the Golden Knights lose, they do so because they have been stifled offensively in low-scoring affairs. Clarkson produces 1.63 goals per game in contests that it has not won. This may seem a truism. It is a warning that if this series devolves into a high-scoring affair, it is the team wearing the colors of the building that likely will win. Clarkson is held to just two goals per game in its losses.
Cornell has allowed just over two goals per game in the month of February. Over the closing weeks of the regular season, Cornell has allowed half a goal less than Clarkson tallies in its losses. Now, Clarkson is more formidable than Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale. However, this team found a way to win even when caught in a one-goal grudge match against Dartmouth. It found a way to put three goals on one of the nation's best goaltenders on senior night. It finds a way.
Cornell's record against hosts of ECAC Hockey's quarterfinals imbues little confidence. The Big Red's regular-season winning rate against the four hosts is half of its in-conference winning rate. This statistic issues a challenge. Hard work and grit are the things that can close the regular-season gap between Cornell and these opponents. The playoffs are a new season.
This program, as evidenced by its ten playoff titles, and this senior class in particular are capable of extraordinary things. These seniors have brought East Hill two ECAC Hockey championships already. They have won 11 playoff games.
Jess Brown, Stefanie Moak, Cassandra Poudrier, Morgan Richardson, Taylor Woods, and Anna Zorn inspire and propel the unexpected. Over one-fourth of the playoff games that this senior class has won have been as the underdog. They are gritty. They are hard-working. They are Cornellians who make fellow alumni and students proud.
The playoff runs of these six seniors include five postseason wins, nearly half of all of their already earned playoff wins, against teams that these players went 0.500 or worse against in the associated regular seasons before the Rouge claimed decisive postseason victories. The most emotional of upsets likely was the 2014 ECAC Hockey Semifinal.
Cornell upset Harvard at Cheel Arena. That game currently stands as the legacy episode of this senior class. Will it remain? More than half of the senior class' skaters tallied a point in that game. Poudrier assisted on Cornell's opening goal. Taylor Woods contributed two points including an assist on the winner. It was Jess Brown who put the Crimson away for good.
That game is both microcosm and template. The game was full of ebbs and flows. Ups and downs taunted the Lynah Faithful in Cheel Arena and watching in their homes. The self-proclaimed underdogs delivered the result for their Cornell family. What was the Lady Rouge's regular-season record against Harvard during the 2013-14 season? 0-1-1. Sound familiar?
Like no class before it and driving a team about which the same may be said in a few weeks, this team plays like Cornellians. Cornellians love the playoffs because nothing is more essentially Cornellian than the playoffs. Cornellians like the stakes high, odds steep, and tasks great. The meaning of a season can be written or erased in a grand moment or bad bounce.
The playoffs are Cornell's time of year, not just because of the ten playoff titles that it has won or even the two titles that these six seniors have given Cornell already, but because they reflect our University's values to deliver when one is called. This senior class has phenomenal reception. We know not when or where this season will end.
The contributors at Where Angels Fear to Tread do know that this team will be worth following on every step of this journey. This team will honor the legacy of one of the best programs in women's hockey, and make its University and alumni proud.